Our Moral Footprint
By VACLAV HAVEL
Published: September 27, 2007 in The New York Times
OVER the past few years the questions have been asked ever more forcefully whether global climate changes occur in natural cycles or not, to what degree we humans contribute to them, what threats stem from them and what can be done to prevent them. Scientific studies demonstrate that any changes in temperature and energy cycles on a planetary scale could mean danger for all people on all continents.
It is also obvious from published research that human activity is a cause of change; we just don’t know how big its contribution is. Is it necessary to know that to the last percentage point, though? By waiting for incontrovertible precision, aren’t we simply wasting time when we could be taking measures that are relatively painless compared to those we would have to adopt after further delays?
Maybe we should start considering our sojourn on earth as a loan. There can be no doubt that for the past hundred years at least, Europe and the United States have been running up a debt, and now other parts of the world are following their example. Nature is issuing warnings that we must not only stop the debt from growing but start to pay it back. There is little point in asking whether we have borrowed too much or what would happen if we postponed the repayments. Anyone with a mortgage or a bank loan can easily imagine the answer.
The effects of possible climate changes are hard to estimate. Our planet has never been in a state of balance from which it could deviate through human or other influence and then, in time, return to its original state. The climate is not like a pendulum that will return to its original position after a certain period. It has evolved turbulently over billions of years into a gigantic complex of networks, and of networks within networks, where everything is interlinked in diverse ways.
Its structures will never return to precisely the same state they were in 50 or 5,000 years ago. They will only change into a new state, which, so long as the change is slight, need not mean any threat to life.
Larger changes, however, could have unforeseeable effects within the global ecosystem. In that case, we would have to ask ourselves whether human life would be possible. Because so much uncertainty still reigns, a great deal of humility and circumspection is called for.
We can’t endlessly fool ourselves that nothing is wrong and that we can go on cheerfully pursuing our wasteful lifestyles, ignoring the climate threats and postponing a solution. Maybe there will be no major catastrophe in the coming years or decades. Who knows? But that doesn’t relieve us of responsibility toward future generations.
I don’t agree with those whose reaction is to warn against restricting civil freedoms. Were the forecasts of certain climatologists to come true, our freedoms would be tantamount to those of someone hanging from a 20th-story parapet.
Whenever I reflect on the problems of today’s world, whether they concern the economy, society, culture, security, ecology or civilization in general, I always end up confronting the moral question: what action is responsible or acceptable? The moral order, our conscience and human rights — these are the most important issues at the beginning of the third millennium.
We must return again and again to the roots of human existence and consider our prospects in centuries to come. We must analyze everything open-mindedly, soberly, unideologically and unobsessively, and project our knowledge into practical policies. Maybe it is no longer a matter of simply promoting energy-saving technologies, but chiefly of introducing ecologically clean technologies, of diversifying resources and of not relying on just one invention as a panacea.
I’m skeptical that a problem as complex as climate change can be solved by any single branch of science. Technological measures and regulations are important, but equally important is support for education, ecological training and ethics — a consciousness of the commonality of all living beings and an emphasis on shared responsibility.
Either we will achieve an awareness of our place in the living and life-giving organism of our planet, or we will face the threat that our evolutionary journey may be set back thousands or even millions of years. That is why we must see this issue as a challenge to behave responsibly and not as a harbinger of the end of the world.
The end of the world has been anticipated many times and has never come, of course. And it won’t come this time either. We need not fear for our planet. It was here before us and most likely will be here after us. But that doesn’t mean that the human race is not at serious risk. As a result of our endeavors and our irresponsibility our climate might leave no place for us. If we drag our feet, the scope for decision-making — and hence for our individual freedom — could be considerably reduced.
Vaclav Havel is the former president of the Czech Republic. This article was translated by Gerald Turner from the Czech.
Filmmaker found priest 'extraordinarily charismatic and principled'
By Mark Pattison
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Filmmaker Bill Haney, who made the new documentary titled "The Price of Sugar," said one reason he decided to make a movie on the plight of Haitian sugar-cane cutters in the Dominican Republic was Father Christopher Hartley, the British-born priest who worked for several years with the Haitians and appears throughout the film.
"I found Father Christopher an extraordinarily charismatic and principled man," Haney said. Although "educated in the spirit of reflection and contemplation," he added, "he was a bold leader taking real-life risks on behalf of the principles that he committed his life to."
Another reason was "the kind of startling and stark and almost painful dichotomy between the lifestyle that the resort-dwellers were enjoying along the (Dominican) coast and the deeply, deeply troubling conditions that the sugar-cane workers were enduring just a few miles away," said Haney, a Catholic. "It kind of reminded me of the admonition that where the last among us go, so am I."
A third reason for the film comes from Haney's education at Portsmouth Abbey in Portsmouth, R.I., a Benedictine-run school he attended from eighth through 12th grades while his father was teaching there.
"I grew up in a monastery," Haney said in a Sept. 25 telephone interview with Catholic News Service from New Orleans, where he was making another film. "The stories in the media about priests in the last 10 years in the Boston area where I'm from have not been particularly heartening. When I was a boy, most of the adults I knew were priests, because my father taught at a boarding school.
"I had a warm and positive feeling about that experience. So the story -- a warm and compelling story -- about a priest who is doing his ministry in such a self-sacrificing way was compelling to me," he added.
Haney said he made 14 visits to sugar-cane country in the Dominican Republic, east of Santo Domingo, the capital. He said he had to be mindful of the possibility of violence during his trips.
"You're holding a camera and you're a Caucasian from North America. And you're in a sugar-cane field and you're surrounded by guys on horses with weapons. (Verbal) abuse was pretty common," Haney said. "The notion that something would get out of hand was always on our mind."
He added, "I think people are more careful because they don't want to be filmed. That's because they're lashed to society in some sort of way. But the sugar-cane fields are a different kind of universe. You felt like you were going back in time in some of these places."
Haney told of an incident related to an interview he and his film crew did of an old Haitian man in the heat. A Haitian woman who had her own house -- with enough of a corrugated-tin roof to provide for an eave that offered some shade -- invited the man to stand in the shade for the interview.
On Haney's next trip, he said, he had been told "the company had come, they had bulldozed the house, fired all the people, put them all out in the street, and told them they had done so because they let the old man be interviewed in the shade."
"The Price of Sugar" details how Haitians are lured from their incredibly poor country to work in the sugar-cane fields -- but not before they are stripped of their passports and identity cards by the sugar growers' recruiters once they have crossed the Haiti-Dominican border on the island of Hispaniola. When meetings between the growers and the Archdiocese of Santo Domingo fail to produce any plans to lift the cane cutters out of poverty, stories in the Dominican media turn up about the Haitians as "illegal aliens" and Father Hartley as a priest who is stirring up trouble.
Actor Paul Newman narrates the documentary. It could be his last presence in a film. The 82-year-old actor announced earlier this year he was retiring from acting because of his advancing age and his decreased ability to remember his lines.
Although Newman's voice-over is gravelly, "it fits our story," Haney said. "It's a bit of the voice of God. He's got a bit of Methuselah in his voice."
"The Price of Sugar" is "both the inspiring story of an individual and the history of a mass movement," said a review by John Mulderig, a staff critic in the U.S. bishops' Office for Film & Broadcasting. "This is a tale of exploitation. But it is also, fundamentally, a celebration of the good that can spring from one individual's deep religious commitment and from well-organized, nonviolent methods of mass resistance."
The film received a classification of A-II -- adults and adolescents -- for graphic depictions of disease and brief nudity among bathing children.
Pope strongly urges Europe not to deny its Christian values
By John Thavis
Catholic News Service
VIENNA, Austria (CNS) -- Before an audience of Austrian political leaders and international diplomats, Pope Benedict XVI urged Europe not to jettison its Christian values -- especially when it comes to the rights of the unborn and the dying.
The pope made the remarks Sept. 7 in an ornate reception hall of Vienna's Hofburg Palace, which was packed with government officials, legislators, ambassadors and representatives to U.N. and other agencies.
After being welcomed warmly by Austrian President Heinz Fischer, the pope stood on a red-carpeted podium and declared bluntly: "Europe cannot and must not deny her Christian roots. These represent a dynamic component of our civilization as we move forward into the third millennium."
The pope then quickly turned to two pro-life issues -- abortion and euthanasia -- which he said were not merely church concerns but represented threats to the most basic human right, that of life itself.
Abortion, he said, "cannot be a human right -- it is the very opposite." In stating this, he said he was "speaking out on behalf of those unborn children who have no voice."
The pope appealed to political leaders "not to allow children to be considered as a form of illness." At the same time, he acknowledged that the issue of abortion is sometimes complex.
"I do not close my eyes to the difficulties and conflicts which many women are experiencing, and I realize that the credibility of what we say also depends on what the church herself is doing to help women in trouble," he said.
In Austria, abortion is available upon request during the first three months of pregnancy, and later in pregnancy under more restricted circumstances. The Catholic Church in Austria runs a network of homes for unwed mothers, as well as for the dying.
The pope said abortion was only one side of a larger problem for Europe, where young couples should be encouraged to welcome children and build families. Political and religious leaders need to help create once again "a climate of joy and confidence in life, a climate in which children are not seen as a burden but rather as a gift for all," he said.
Referring to Europe's low birth rate, the pope noted that the continent is demographically aging. But Europe must not become old in spirit, he said.
"It must not give up on itself," he said.
In his remarks on euthanasia, the pope said he was deeply worried about the current debate on what is termed "actively assisted death." The fear, he said, is that the gravely ill or elderly will be pressured to request death or even administer it themselves.
The proper response to terminal illness is loving care and accompaniment, especially palliative care, the pope said. The hospice movement "has done wonders" in this regard, he said.
But he said Europe needs urgent structural reforms of health care systems in order to provide "humane accompaniment on the journey toward death," including psychological and pastoral attention.
The pope, who had been suffering from hoarseness before arriving in Austria, delivered his speech in a strong voice, pausing occasionally to take a drink of water. He was winding up the first day of a three-day pilgrimage to the country.
He praised the movement toward European unity, but said Europe also has to look beyond its continental boundaries. In particular, he said, Europe should take a leadership role in fighting global poverty, promoting peace in the Middle East, and helping to "regulate and limit" globalization so that it will not damage the world's poor and the economic prospects of future generations.
He said Europe has experienced a wide range of mistakes over the centuries, including the "abuse of religion and reason for imperialistic purposes," the degradation caused by theoretical and practical materialism, and "the degeneration of tolerance into an indifference with no reference to permanent values."
But Europe has also been marked by a capacity for self-criticism, he said, and by a tradition of thought that sees a correspondence between faith, truth and reason. At the root of this outlook is the Christian conviction that "at the origin of everything is the creative reason of God," he said.
He closed by telling Austrian officials, "An Austria without a vibrant Christian faith would no longer be Austria."
The pope's speech was uninterrupted by applause, but at the end he received a standing ovation from those in the chandeliered hall.
Earlier, the pope held closed-door talks with Fischer in the presidential palace.
Oh, and from Whispers in the Loggia, there's an interesting little story with the tongue-in-cheek title of The Curia's "First Lady", about Sister Enrica Rosanna, Benedict's blatant